R Ashoka, Karnataka’s cabinet minister for transport is known for introducing Volvo services for Bangalore International Airport and supporting the expansion technology into Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation. He boasts of making public transport available and desirable by both the rich and the poor. He was the health minister in the previous JDS-BJP government.
This is his fourth term in the Vidhana Soudha and he was elected from Padmanabhanagar constituency. In the last three terms he was elected from Uttarahalli. Katriguppe, Ilyasnagar, Kaverinagar in his constituency are neglected. R Ashok’s 2008 declaration of Rs. 10.06 crores in total assets reflects a 2,604.7 per cent increase from his 2004 declaration.
Turning 52 earlier this month, this senior BJP leader had never thought of becoming a politician, he says. He devoted his youth to Kabaddi in the hope of representing the country one day. A university player, he represented Bangalore twice. He broke his leg playing against Maharashtra which put a halt to his sports ambition.
Born into a farming family, his father lost a major portion of his 45 acres of agricultural land to the public sector company, Hindustan Machine Tools. In compensation, the company hired his father. Ashoka then focused on studies. After finishing his primary education at a government school in Jalahalli and high school from HMT School, he chose to study Science in PUC at V V Puram College. But his father’s dream of his son becoming an engineer was shattered when he got low scores in II PUC. Ashoka admits to having been an average student, went onto to complete his B Sc, though he had to drop out of LLB (law degree) course halfway due to his father’s death.
His political career started with a small stint at the Bangalore central jail during the Emergency. He along with a few others were jailed during a protest at Yeshwantpur. He met senior BJP leader L K Advani in the jail. However, Ashoka says he owes his uncle Annaiah his political career. Some years back, as he was running away from making a speech for P G R Sindhia in the Kanakapura Lok Sabha segment, his uncle caught him and forcibly pushed him into addressing the crowd. Making public speeches then became a commonplace for Ashoka and a platform for his political career to start.
You have completed one year as the transport minister. How was it (difficult/ easy)…?
It was difficult initially. I faced a lot of problems. The fluctuation in diesel prices added to the troubles, two times the central government hiked diesel prices. In that time we had thought of increasing the price of bus tickets because of the price rise of diesel. And then we faced huge public protest on the issue. It was tough to deal with the situation but that was the time I decided to have very less hike in the ticket fares. Ultimately we are serving the people and they need to be happy. Our decision was welcomed by everyone. It is important to think from the people’s perspective.
*Editors’ Note: The BMTC increased its fares by 4 per cent from 8th July 2009 because of rise in petrol and diesel prices.
Do you think more people are traveling by buses because of low hike in tickets?
Yes, of course. Our KSRTC and BMTC per day collection is Rs.6 crores each now. Before it used to be not more than Rs.3-4 crores.
How about performance of Volvos running inside the city?
We are introducing only now, so we should give it some time. Even now there are very few Volvo buses running in the city. Right now there are 200 volvo buses in Bangalore then we have KSRTC Volvo buses. The long route Volvo buses are also very popular.
Is Volvo profitable?
In KSRTC, yes Volvos are very profitable. In BMTC, the airport and IT company routes are giving profits. The other routes are yet to gain momentum. Some routes are certainly not giving us profits. It is still a new introduction in many areas. It is improving day to day and very soon it will be popular all over city.
There is so much rush in the BMTC regular buses and people have to fight to find a seat, what is the point in introducing more Volvos when not many people travel in Volvos?
I want to leave my car, in Bangalore there is not proper parking facility, I want to travel, how do I travel? Go to regular BMTC bus, there is so much rush you cant get a comfortable seat, pickpockets; I want to travel comfortably. In Bangalore there was no proper transport system for these requirements. I felt unhappy for this. So I introduced Volvos*. Here 100 per cent you get a comfortable seat, air conditioner, comfortable travel. I am forced to leave my car and travel in a bus. It also helps reduce the traffic congestion and pollution. I know not all Volvos are running well but my intention is to provide more and more mass transport.
*Editors’ Note: Volvo buses were actually launched in 2006 by the Kumaraswamy government.
Why not Tata Marcopolo but Volvo?
Those buses were having some technical faults. In the entire India, Volvo are the only buses that have a low flooring. Even Tata buses are not low floored, therefore we opted for Volvos. Now Tata is trying to come up with a low floor option.
Editors’ Note: Low-flooring is convenient to climb, especially for senior citizens and physically challenged.
How are the HOHO and BIG 10 services running?
Big 10 is popular now*. In Big 10 we are using Volvo and Suvarna buses. The HOHO is not as popular now, but will be popular in the due course. It is still new and many people are not aware of it, gradually it will also gain popularity. People who were traveling in autorickshaws are now traveling in Big 10.
*Editors’ note: Ashoka has no numbers to show on how many people are traveling in Big 10, or how much revenue collection BMTC is earning from it. After asking him for numbers several times he finally said: No I have not done any survey but I know the number of bus travelers has increased.
Our buses are also increasing (number of buses) now we will be introducing another 1000 buses (Volvo as well as regular buses) because the number of commuters in buses is increasing each day. Out of the 1000 buses only 200 will be Volvo buses, remaining 800 will be regular buses. The tendering process is almost done for this and from July onwards every month 100-200 buses will be introduced each month.
Do you think only increasing the number of buses on road will encourage people to travel in mass transport?
Why are people not traveling in public transport is because of the comfort they get in their own vehicle. They can reach any place at any desired time if they go by their own vehicle. But the perception about BMTC buses in the minds of people is very different. They will be thinking about not getting a seat, rush. I want to change this mindset of Bangaloreans. With the introduction of Volvos and Suvarna buses the person traveling is sure of getting a comfortable seat. We are also proud of introducing Atal Sarige, for the poor people. The bus ticket is 50 per cent of the cost of a ticket in a regular bus. All these things are making our transport department for the people.
As of now we have introduced 25 Atal Sarige buses, which will be running only in the slum areas so that the people living there can avail the services. The buses are running slum areas of Banashankari, Koramangala, Kamala Nagar, and so on.
Because the ticket fare is so low, everyone would want to travel by the Atal Sarige leading to too much rush, might even lead to no service for the deserving…
We have introduced it for the poor people. People who are going for construction work, maids and so on, and so we are running the buses only on routes where poor people live. Even if other people travel in those buses, we don’t mind. My intention behind this service is to facilitate the poor people, and most of them will be benefited is what I feel. In fact event the design of the buses is for their convenience. The seats are arranged all around the sides and there is enough space in the middle for people to keep their belongings.
You are introducing 1000 more buses, in sometime Metro will also be in the city. In five years time people would travel more by Metro than traveling by buses and these buses might end up running empty. What then? Why introduce so many buses now?
(Thinks..) Metro’s line is very restricted. It is from east to west and north to south. But who will bring the people to the metro station. Our BMTC will bring people to the Metro stations. But my intention is in another three, four, five years I want to reduce the use of autorickshaws and personal vehicles. I want to change the mindset of Bangaloreans and make them all travel more in mass transport. My intention is not of more buses in Bangalore but of more people using mass transport.
After the completion of Metro, we will be introducing one ticket system. That is you take Metro ticket and you can also travel in BMTC bus, you take BMTC ticket and you can travel in Metro too. This system we have already introduced for rural Karnataka. For e.g.: If you are coming from Channapatna or Hoskote, you take a KSRTC ticket from their, then when you come to Bangalore, you can travel in BMTC anywhere on that ticket and then go back to Hoskote.
Now we will be introducing smart card also Karnataka is the only state to have centralised RTO system. Bangalore has the best buses in the country. You will not find Volvo buses anywhere else in India. Hyderabad has recently ordered for 50 buses. Three months back the central government gave the best award for mass transport to KSRTC. We are the only profit making public transport system in India.
Editors’ Note: From June 25, Driving Licences and Registration Certificates have been replaced by smart cards in the state. Now all drivers applying for new DLs and RCs in 55 RTOs of the state will be issued a smart card, embedded with microprocessor chip, with a 4 KB memory. This can be availed within a day of application, by paying Rs.200. The smart cards will be connected to all RTOs in the state. Ashoka says will benefit both the public as well as law-enforcing agencies.
Are you even planning to have a system in place that can tell people which bus at what time will go from where to where? A lot of people are not traveling by buses also because the there is no schedule that the buses follow. People are not sure if they will get a bus at a desired time to reach their destination.
We are planning to introduce electronic notices in bus stands and on all buses for this purpose. As of now in the BIAL bus service the bus timings and the route are clearly mentioned. Within a year’s time this facility will be implemented in all the bus shelters and on every bus. It will have all the details of when the bus will start from where, what time will it arrive and so on. My intention is perfect timing, good buses and more people using mass transport.
Editors’ note: Bangaloreans are used to seeing BMTC buses with Kannada-only signboards, the Volvos have been running with English signs. Also, Pushpak and Suvarna buses are carrying English signs. Ashoka says that all buses are going to have bilingual signs soon.
When you talk about profit, actually the profits have been decreasing over the years…
I think we are having more and more development over the years. I am not interested in profit making. My intention is to give back to our customers whatever we are getting as profit. What is the use of getting a Rs.200 crores (Ashoka is referring to profit of both BMTC and KSRTC clubbed together) profit and keeping it in the bank. My intention is to give the benefits to the people. This year it’s a record, Rs.440 crores we are investing for bus stand construction. Hi-tech world class bus stands. In another 10 months Bangalore bus stands will be international level bus stands. I am not just making claims but I have already started construction in some places. Already 30-40 per cent work is done for some bus stands.
We have bought 250 acres land in Bangalore for the construction of bus shelters. 12 bus shelters will be built, one in Banashankari, Koramangala, Whitefield, Kengeri, Jayanagar, Hebbal, so on. The work is going on. Jayanagar bus shelter will be ready in another 3 months. So what will be the income from that bus stand you know… it will be a four floor underground bus stand, above it will be a mall. This will be a permanent income, this is profit. There are commercial complexes, lakhs of sq ft and permanent income. Do you think this is loss? I don’t think that I should increase bus fares every time petrol, diesel rises. I look for alternate ways.
Till now bus stands were not having proper restrooms, no proper counters. The public who is paying for all this was deprived of basic facilities, so what was the use of heavy profits. It is the duty of our department to give back to the people from the profit. Now you are saying the profit number has reduced, you add this Rs.440 crores and then tell me how much is the profit?
Just think about the vision of BMTC. We have deposited Rs.45 crores with the BDA (for bus stand construction). We are already thinking about a new ring road in Bangalore. BDA is going to start that work in another two months for the ring road. It will be a 220 feet wide road around Bangalore. It will be a world class road.
My intention is that we have to think before doing. What is the point of thinking about no parking lot, etc. five years after the road completion we think that there was need of a bus stand here…I have put in a long term thinking and proper planning. I am constructing bus stands at the time of road construction. Don’t think about the profit and loss. Think where are we using the profit.
Other means to promote mass transport (in relation to HOHO), like providing no parking inside the CBD, therefore leaving people with no other option but to use the buses…
My thinking is also same. Forward countries like England have such systems. We are also planning to implement similar systems for our city.
Do you think road widening will solve traffic problems?
No, No I don’t think so. How many roads will you widen? This will be just a 5 per cent contribution to traffic problems nothing more than that. Metro will give around 20 per cent relief in the traffic. The only solution I can see is of mass transport implementation.
How do you think has the transport department grown in the last one year? Where was it when you came and where is it now?
When I came in with set goals. I encouraged mass transport. The main problem in Bangalore is of traffic. Where ever you go there is traffic jams and slow traffic and the main reason behind it is more and more number of cars, personal vehicles, auto rickshaws, all these add to the traffic of the city. Encouraging public transport is the only solution to the existing traffic woes. It will also reduce the increasing pollution in the city.
I introduced Volvo. (Again, the claim.) Volvo is now very popular. Especially for the airport, this is the only means of transport that people depend on. Even rich people these days prefer traveling by BMTC Volvo for airport. They leave their cars and come to our buses.
There are 10,000 trainees in KSRTC now, who are working as trainees for more than a year now and are deprived of any benefits, bonuses, pay packages, no proper working conditions, shouldn’t that improve, what is the dept doing for that?
From the past ten years our dept is having 2 years training and they get Rs 2000 as pay. When I came within one month I changed this system and increased their pay to Rs 3500, I have also introduced better medical facilities for the workers, health insurance, etc everything I introduced. The workers are now getting a 3 per cent commission of whatever profits our dept is making. I am also planning to reduce the two years training period also.
Complaints about bus drivers..
We have 20,000 buses and there is a shortage of 6000 drivers. Naturally, then the existing drivers have to work more. Most of them are working non stop for 15-16 hours. But this problem will be solved now. We have already appointed 6000 drivers for the KSRTC and 3000 will be appointed for BMTC by July. The process is going on.
Can’t we put the trainees in the vacancies?
These vacancies are other than the trainees, the trainees are yet to complete their training.
On reappointment of drivers responsible for fatal accidents
We give one chance to all the drivers. But if the offence is repeated then they are fired.
There is a lot of disillusion about BMLTA and its functioning.. Your take
(Gives a blank look, I repeat the question with the full form of BMLTA, his blank look continues) What, any problem in that committee? Ummm ummm aaa mmmm…I think Chief minister and Ananth Kumar’s committee.
Reporter’s note: I try to give him a clue by naming Gaurav Gupta, the IAS Officer who was the former head of BMLTA and KSRTC but he seems clueless. The minister did not appear to know about the BMLTA at all.
What is your take on G-category land given to MLAs and MPs?
(G-category refers to BDA sites allotted at the discretion of the chief minister)
This is related to CM, so the question goes to CM. (I ask him again: do you think it is fair if MLAs and MPs get land under G-category?)
G-category was not started by our government, it is there for the past 20 years. The question should be for those who have introduced this. G-category means some eminent personalities in various fields like artists, sports persons, freedom fighters. (I ask again… he laughs). I don’t know. I do not want to comment on this. My name has never appeared for G-category so I don’t know and I do not want to comment on this question.
Editors’ Note:The BDA’s annual report 2007-08 has named “R Ashoka, Minister” as a recipient of a BDA site.
Something about yourself..
I am a sportsman. I was a Kabbaddi player, I have played Kabbaddi for Bangalore University, and even at state level. I cannot play anymore because there is no time left and I am also having knee problems now. I love nature, especially sea and rivers. I like to go out on vacations. I don’t get time for vacations that often now.
Also I love eating chicken and fish preparations. But these days as I am on diet I miss eating them. I have to reduce weight (he smiles). ⊕